Disclaimer: Someone else's sandbox. I just play here because its fun.

IMPORTANT PLEASE READ: For any of you who are avid Conversations readers, who have not read Chapter 18 of that fic (Seeing Dawn), stop now, go read it, and then come back because this is a continuation.

For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, you can read this fic without reading its companion, Conversations at 3 am (though I'm told it might be worth your time). However, if you're stickler for characterization stop now and go read that or all of this will seem very out of character. If you can suspend reality you just need to know a few basic facts and only a few subtleties will be lost on you: Billy and Kat formed a friendship over repairing Zords. During the course of this friendship they fell in love, but not before Kat had started dating Tommy. It all came to head when Billy started aging and then left because he was afraid of destroying the team by stealing Kat away from Tommy (it sounds melodramatic but there was a Lancelot, Guinevere, King Arthur reference and somehow it worked). During the course of all this Tanya and Jason became aware of what was going on, but Tommy still does not know. Billy has finally come back thanks to Cestria putting her foot down, and after some basic rehashing of emotions, he and Kat are trying out this crazy thing called love. That's were we begin, on top of the Command Center. (Boy that's kind of depressing seeing eighteen chapters summed up like that).

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"We're going to be okay you know . . . as a team. We're too strong for this one thing to finish us."

Smiling down at her, Billy shifted a little, and bringing his arm to her waist, drew her close, brushing a kiss against her lips. "You have amazing faith."

Snuggling closer into his embrace Kat sighed, "I'm sitting on top of the Command Center, waiting for sunrise with the one person in the world I never thought I'd see again. Faith is easy."

They were at peace. An uneasy peace, like a calm before the storm, but a kind of peace all the same. Certainty of their choice buoyed them against the knowledge of what lay ahead. They were so caught up in each other that neither one of them took notice of the solitary figure that smiled up at them before making its way up to the Command Center on the ground below.

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The woman who stood in the middle of the Power Chamber surveying her surroundings was all in all a fairly ordinary looking individual. Dressed in jeans, work boots, and a rather drab grey long sleeve t-shirt, she could have been any soccer mom running a few errands before picking up the kids. Of average height, average weight, with decidedly non-descript features, and gray eyes, she wouldn't have even been the most interesting soccer mom at the park. In fact the pile of flyaway auburn curls that topped her head was really the only truly remarkable thing about her was.

Except of course for the fact that she stood in the middle of the Power Chamber.

"You know . . . I like it." She announced to no one in particular, "I mean it's a little drab compared to the old place, but over all very homey."

Suddenly the chamber flared to life, as though in response to her call.

"HOW DID YOU GET IN HERE?" Zordon demanded

"Walked actually." She murmured, seemingly unfazed by the sudden appearance of a giant head, and continued to look around with interest. "You really should train your people better. I don't think either one of the two love-birds up on the roof even knew I was here."

"YOU SHOULD NOT BE HERE."

Smiling, the woman turned to face the large booming voice. "I should not do a great many things, but we both know that that has rarely stopped me."

Zordon's eyes narrowed as something in her flippant manner struck a chord. "BELTANE"

In his voice the word was as much a curse as a name, a kind of pronouncement of her absolute, unredeemable despicableness.

"I'm touched you remembered." She muttered, moving over to one of the brightly lit control panels and frowning down at it with interest.

And then before a signal could be sent, before Zordon could even begin the first syllables of 'Rangers', the entire communications panel went dead.

"Ah, there, now we can talk in privacy."

"WE HAVE NOTHING TO DISCUSS."

"See this is why you never got invited to the good parties. No sense of polite small talk." The woman called Beltane was still walking idly around the room occasionally tapping a control here or there as though just to see what they would do.

"YOU COME HERE IN DISGUISE AND EXPECT A WARM WELCOME." If any of the Rangers had been there, they would have been surprised at the scorn that laced their mentor's normally neutral voice.

"Is that what's got you so uptight? I'm not dressed appropriately for threats and posturing?" Beltane shook her head in disappointment. "I guess I should have known. You and my brat of a sister always did stand on ceremony far too much. I bet all your kiddies have hand signals and capes."

A spark emitted from the panel next to her, singeing her palm.

Beltane laughed. It was a rich and full laugh, the kind Mrs. Claus might have. "Okay, no capes. But that . . . that was a neat trick. Let's see if you like mine."

Her movements were incongruous to her words. Sticking her hands in her pockets, she rocked back and forth on her heels as though waiting for something to happen that was completely outside herself. Then without another word, without a single gesture on her part, Alpha shut down, his head smashing into the communications panel she'd been letting him try to restore.

"Neat, huh? I picked it up off a technopath somewhere in the Tenkari system."

Zordon said nothing merely looked down at her in poorly disguised loathing.

Rolling her eyes, she sighed deeply. "Oh all right, since you've been so tolerant for posturing, I guess I can manage to dress for threats."

And suddenly she was no longer so unremarkable.

Far from unremarkable, Beltane was startling. From the mass of gleaming white hair to the moon pale skin, she shone in the darkened room. Her too-white shoulders offset by a net of obsidian veins that wound up her neck and into her hairline like some eerie choker, sparkling with power. Taking a moment to unnecessarily smooth out a fold in the heavy velvet gown she now wore, she finally looked up, fixing Zordon with pale colorless eyes, her thin lips curling in a small satisfied smile.

"Now let's get down to business."

"WHAT IS IT YOU WANT BELTANE?"

"Oh I'm a woman of simple tastes. My wants are not many. Wealth, love, power." As though to emphasize her last word, she tapped another button, clapping delightedly as the Zeo Crystal rose from its normal resting place. "Ooh very pretty."

"ONLY A TRUE RANGER CAN WIELD ITS POWER. ONE WHO IS PURE OF HEART AND THOUGHT, WHOSE INTENTIONS ARE HONORABLE. THAT DOES NOT DESCRIBE YOU."

"No it certainly doesn't. Aah well . . ." She started to lower the crystal, then as though thinking better of it, raised it again and walked over to survey it more closely. "Still . . . maybe it would be worth it just to prevent someone else from wielding it. After all, she who has the most power wins."

This time the response was decidedly more forceful.

In a burst of crackling, multicolored energy, the Center exploded with brilliant light, coalescing above the crystal in tight ball. Before Beltane could make a move, the miniature nova shot forward. Hitting her squarely in the chest, its force threw her across the room like a rag doll.

"LEAVE BELTANE. NOW."

Pulling herself up, Beltane shook her head, the web of obsidian veins now pulsing and crackling with power, her rich voice turned harsh. "Tsk, tsk, Zordon dear, you escalated the battle . . ."

Stretching her hands out to the side, she flexed her fingers, and with a crack, a fissure of energy ripped through the chamber, bouncing from panel to panel, leaving every electronic item dead in its wake. Finally coming to rest in Beltane's right hand, it wound itself up her arm sinking into her skin twining with her veins. Casually, she raised her left arm, and sent a thin tendril of black energy to wrap itself around the Zeo Crystal. That last shred of light extinguished, the two pale beings faced each other in the darkness.

"YOU CANNOT STIFLE ITS POWER FOREVER."

"But I can do it for the moment. Which means there'll be no more toss the bitch."

"THE RANGERS WILL DESTROY YOU."

Beltane scoffed, "I don't know why they'd want to. I have no intention of destroying them."

"I FIND THAT HARD TO BELIEVE."

She smiled. "Oh come now, destroying the Power Rangers? What purpose would that serve? Six dead teenagers and a backwater planet that's more trouble to hold than its worth. And sooner or later some other old geezer of a do-gooder would recruit another crop of fresh dewy-eyed youngsters with dreams of glory. Please. Don't insult me by grouping me with those inept fools you've grown soft tussling with. I don't intend to announce my presence with a grand battle. There will be nothing on the view screen for your young guns to watch, if of course they can get it running again."

"DO YOU HAVE A POINT?"

"Your Rangers have something I want. I get it and I'll be on my merry little way. Don't suppose you'd like to give them a ring? Save us all the time?"

"THE RANGERS WILL NEVER SURRENDER ANYTHING TO YOU."

"Pity." Another crackle of power rippled along her skin. "Well, I didn't say I wouldn't destroy them if necessary, just that I didn't intend to."

"THE MACHINE EMPIRE WILL NOT TAKE KINDLY TO YOUR INTERFERENCE."

"The . . . Machine . . . Empire." Beltane repeated the name in a singsong voice, emphasizing each word with a tap on Alpha's frozen form. At her last tap the tiny robot, sprung to life again, spinning like a top, his arms outstretched so that they slammed into the controls, tearing great holes in the equipment. Sidestepping the whirling robot, she smiled. "I don't think that will be a problem."

She closed her hand into a fist, and Alpha dropped. "No. Not a problem at all. You on the other hand . . ."

"YOUR EVIL--"

Beltane cut him off. "I'm a thief. Not evil, simply pragmatic. Can't have you running off to warn the little dears."

Black fog began to creep up Zordon's tube, receding a little when a ripple of white light pulsed against it, driving it back.

"Now, now, don't . . . make . . . this . . . any . . . harder . . . than . . . it . . . has . . . to . . . be." She grunted with effort, punctuating each word with a great obsidian gash, so that they littered the surface of the tube like so many gaping wounds. Still the fog continued to rise, plunging the chamber into further darkness with every inch. As it reached the top, the cloud solidified becoming smooth and opaque.

Grinning, Beltane strolled over and rapped her knuckles against the surface. "Knock, knock, anybody home?"

Silence.

And she turned on her heel, once again the non-descript woman, not one of the Rangers would notice on the street. Throwing a last look over her shoulder, before walking out she laughed.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."

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Kat's head shot up. "Did you feel that?"

Billy nodded soberly, as another tremor shook the Command Center. "Please tell me I've forgotten what an earthquake feels like."

"No, you haven't."

They were up before she even finished her sentence, both of them scrambling over to the trap door that led inside. Billy's fingers shook so badly as he tried to type in the entrance sequence that Kat had to take over.

She followed him down the ladder, arguing possibilities all the way, each becoming more fantastical than the last.

"It could just be a surge in the principle power conduits."

"Or Alpha trying to fix the navigation on Morgan."

They headed down the corridor at a run.

"When was the last time you checked the air circulation for fire hazards."

"When was the last time you checked the integrity on the main routers."

"It could just be Zordon flexing his muscles, trying out def--" The words died on Billy's tongue as he rounded the corner. "Oh My God."

"Wha-?" Kat drew up beside him and stared in shock. "Oh God." The Power Chamber was a wasteland, at least what little they could see of it. The room had been plunged into darkness, the only source of illumination was the Zeo Crystal, which seemed to be emerging from some kind of unnatural fog.

By this faint light, they could make out the great gaping holes in the control panels, Alpha's prone form, and . . .

"Billy." Kat whispered urgently, directing his attention to the center of the room where Zordon should have been, and instead loomed a great dark pillar of what looked like solid stone

"No." He was across the length of the Chamber in a few short strides, his fingers already reaching for the controls, trying combinations of commands by feel rather than sight.

With each failed attempt, his movements became more and more desperate. "No. No. No."

"Billy."

Her voice seemed to steady him, to allow him to think a little more clearly, and he began announcing all that was wrong. "Power's gone, completely gone and there's no reason why it should be. I might be able to get auxiliary up, but that's going to take awhile. The controls on the viewing globe are ripped to shreds, and so are all the defensive sensors for all the good they did us."

"What happened here?"

"I don't know, but . . ." He moved over to another panel, and after tapping a few buttons, sighed in resignation. "Kat go down to the Zord bay, if any one of them have power tap into its com system, and call everyone. Tell them they have to get here now."

She was already at the door when he called after her, "Tell Tommy and Jason they'll have to drive. We don't even have power to teleport."

Taking this final bit of information in stride, she continued running, only to slow when she heard him chasing her. Before she had a chance to ask what else, he spun her around by her shoulders and kissed her desperately.

"It might be a very long time before I can do that again." He whispered, upon releasing her.

"We can't . . ."

"Do you see what's back there? This isn't the time. I promise you we will find a time, but this isn't it."

She knew he was right, but she didn't want him to be. She was terrified, and she didn't want to relinquish the one thing that made her feel safe.

Nodding numbly, she stepped away. "I stored your tools in the Zord bay. I'll bring them up."

"Captain . . . whoever did this . . . they could have gotten the Zords, too."

She smiled at the worry he was trying not to show. "I'll be careful."

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As I warned those of you who read Conversations. It's a new direction.

Comments and Criticisms appreciated as always.

Panache